Tag Archives: harriet harman

Nick Clegg at PMQs, with added Elvis

Clegg_PMQsNick was standing in for David Cameron, who was visiting Israel, at Prime Minister’s Questions today. The half hour was, of course, punctuated with the usual pantomime and point-scoring, but it seemed a lot more relaxed and good humoured than it usually is. Cameron acts sometimes like the event is beneath him. Nick just took all the jibes, responded with a fair bit of patience and humour and even seemed amused by some of them. The Labour spin doctors must have been up all night thinking of Elvis puns after we were beaten by the Bus Pass Elvis party in a council by-election in Clifton in Nottingham last week. The best they could manage was “You ain’t nothing but a lap dog.” You could see Nick trying not to laugh but he didn’t quite manage it as he responded:

At least we are not the lapdog of the bankers, which is what Labour was in office. At least we did not crash the British economy. At least we did not cost every household £3,000. At least we did not preside over an increase in relative poverty. At least we did not preside over an increase in youth unemployment. We are creating the stronger economy and fairer society that the Labour party failed to create.

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Danny Alexander introduces Ginger Rodent beer to the Commons bar

If there is one issue that could unite Social Liberal Forum co-chair Gareth Epps and Danny Alexander, it’s beer. Gareth is a huge supporter of the Fair Deal for your local campaign, as any self-respecting CAMRA member should be. Danny is also a huge supporter of the micro breweries in his constituency. I spent a very pleasant evening sampling Loch Ness Brewery’s wares with his staff last Summer and hope to do the same next month.

It was the Cairngorm Brewery, though, who responded to Harriet Harman’s insult of Danny Alexander by producing a Ginger Rodent beer.

Tonight, that …

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Nick Clegg: “Let Leveson speak”

The Leveson Report on the culture, practice and ethics of the press will be published today at 1:30pm.

Speaking to the BBC this morning Nick Clegg said,

I think we should leave Lord Leveson to speak for himself. But my views on this subject are well known.

I believe in a vigorous free press that holds the powerful to account and isn’t subject to political interference. But a free press does not and cannot mean a press that is free to bully innocent people, or free to abuse grieving families.

I hope when Lord Justice Leveson gives his full statement later today, we will

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Nick’s second ‘Letter from the Leader': featuring PMQs, Leveson Inquiry & tax-cuts for the low-paid

Nick Clegg’s second letter to members and supporters has hit my inbox… This week’s email focuses on two issues. First, the impending Leveson Report into what form of media (self-)regulation will be needed to ensure newspapers don’t continue to abuse their power in the way that was exposed so forensically during Sir Brian’s inquiry. And secondly, on re-inforcing the Lib Dems’ number one achievement from the Coalition: raising the income tax threshold so that millions of the lowest paid in society have more money in their pockets.

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Nick Clegg does PMQs in style

Nick Clegg did Prime Minister’s Questions today while David Cameron is schmoozing his way round the Middle East. He was so assured, confident and natural and spoke completely without notes. He even answered the question he was given and not the one he wanted to answer, too. He made David Cameron look like a complete amateur, to be honest, and Gordon Brown, too.

My Liberal Democrat Voice colleague Nick Thornsby reminded us on Twitter this morning that four years ago, two days after Barack Obama was elected the first time round, Nick, then a humble third party leader, questioned PM Gordon Brown, who put him down quite snidily. And the subject of his questions? Taxing the wealthy and cutting taxes for the poorest. Nothing if not consistent. Have a look here.

 

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Simon Hughes challenges Harriet Harman over Labour’s record in Sheffield

From a party news release:

Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader, Simon Hughes, joined Liberal Democrat councillors in Sheffield to highlight more than £4m of wasteful spending by Labour locally.

The figures were revealed while Labour Deputy Leader, Harriet Harman, visited the city, attempting to defend Labour’s waste on Sheffield City Council.

Local Liberal Democrat councillors are campaigning to save Sheffield’s weekly bin collections, vital recycling services and local dementia homes, placed under threat of closure by Labour councillors.

Senior Sheffield Labour councillors have argued that no money is available, but there has been a staggering £4.2m of wasteful spending.

In the last 12 months Labour councillors have:

  • Approved

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Nick Clegg does PMQs – my tweets

As always, Paul Walter will be along later with his imitable account of PMQs, but I thought that seeing as our own Nick Clegg was standing in for David Cameron today, we could have a bit of a bonus.

I tweeted my way through a session that could have been a tough one for our leader – but he managed to deal with the predictable Labour attacks on unemployment and the Health and Social Care Bill thoughtfully and without aggression or rancour.

Here is a link to my tweets – with apologies for the spelling mistakes. My fingers had trouble keeping …

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Labour sticks to its support for the Digital Economy Act

Cory Doctorow writes,

Harriet Harman, deputy leader the UK Labour Party, has explained her party’s programme for the British Internet: “implement the Digital Economy Act under a clear timetable including getting on with the notification letters.” “Notification letters?” Why yes, those would be the letters notifying you that you have been accused, without proof, of downloading copyrighted material without permission, and that everyone in your household is now at risk of being disconnected from the Internet, without a trial. If that costs you your job, if that costs your children their education, if that makes it harder to engage with politics, civics,

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Brown at 10: the authoritative account – which lays into Ed Balls

When it first came out Brown at 10 by Anthony Seldon and Guy Lodge was extremely well received for its authoritative detail and the revised paperback edition maintains that standard well. With Seldon being one of the founders of the modern school of contemporary history, it is no surprise that the book follows the thorough, heavily documented approach contemporary historians strive for – with over 1 million words of interviews recorded for posterity (even if many are, for the next 30 years, withheld from public view) and extensive access to private diaries.

The huge depth of research is accompanied by …

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DPMQs: “Grotesque” and “beneath contempt” – Clegg on the Milly Dowler phone hacking allegations

The highest profile issue at Deputy Prime Minister’s questions today was the issue of press phone hacking in the light of the allegations concerning Milly Dowler and the News of the World.

Harriet Harman asked Nick Clegg to back Ed Miliband’s call for a general public inquiry into illegality in the newspaper industry. As someone has said, this is a bit like holding an inquiry into why we get bad weather. In a sign of divisions within Labour, Chris Bryant, in contrast, has called for a more narrow inquiry.

Nick Clegg stopped short of backing an inquiry but, instead, emphasised the importance …

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Tim Farron asks Labour where they stand on Phil Woolas

From a party news release:

Liberal Democrat Party President-Elect Tim Farron has written to the General Secretary of the Labour Party, Ray Collins, asking him to clarify the Labour Party’s position on Phil Woolas following criticism of Harriet Harman’s decision to suspend him by a number of backbench MPs.

The full text of the letter is below:

Dear General Secretary,

Firstly may I offer you my heartfelt congratulations on the news of your elevation to the House of Lords.

However, I am writing to you to raise the matter of the judgement of the Election Court in Oldham East and Saddleworth on November 5th and

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PMQS: Cameron promised faster wheels amidst squeaky bums

What a relief! For a change, Prime Minister’s Questions gave more cause for Tories to be uneasy than it did for LibDems. Don’t get me wrong, LibDems care passionately about frontline policing. Of course they do. But the Tories tend to see it as more of a cojones (or should I invent the adjective “cojonal” here?) measurement issue – it’s closer to the nerve with them. So I think there must have been a lot of uncomfortable shifting around on the benches behind David Cameron today. “Squeaky bum time”, as Sir Alex might put it.

For once there was a good …

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PMQs: Albatross! Albatross! Come and get your lovely Albatross!

Rarely, both the Prime Minister and the Opposition leader had reason to be absent from Prime Minister’s Questions today. So it was dear Harriet versus the Cleggster.

As an added twist, it turned into a “Higher Education Special”, in part spurred by the student demonstrations outside parliament as the session was unfolding. There were no less than ten questions on higher education. My, the Labour whips had been busy. Sadly this meant less time for the constituency issues often raised by MPs.

I witnessed the session live via Twitter, where Nick Clegg received a rather jaundiced reception – to put it mildly. When I look back on the video, it seems to me that Nick Clegg did a remarkably good job of what was probably the most difficult parliamentary session of his career. Indeed, he looked terrified beforehand, as Northern Irish questions overan.

Harman started by asking how Clegg’s April pledge to end university tuition fees was going.
Nick Clegg replied that:

..we have stuck to our wider ambition to make sure that going to university is done in a progressive way, so that people who are currently discouraged from going to university—bright people from poor backgrounds, who are discouraged by the system that we inherited from the right hon. and learned Lady’s Government—are able to do so. That is why our policy is more progressive than hers.

Harman said he hoped he’d tell that to the protestors outside and quoted him saying that fees of £7000 would be a “disaster” – so how would he describe fees of £9,000?

Nick Clegg said that there was a consensus that graduates should pay some contribution and added:
The proposals that we have put forward will mean that those who earn the least will pay much less than they do at the moment—while those who earn the most will pay over the odds to provide a subsidy to allow people from poor backgrounds to go to university—and will, for the first time, end the discrimination against the 40% of people in our universities who are part-time students, who were so shamefully treated by her Government.

Harman, rightly, said that none of the Labour party agree with fees of £9000 a year. I think Harman was spot on when she said that this is not about the deficit. It will be cleared by the time the new tuition fees scheme starts. It’s about the proportion of graduate (what she described wrongly as “student”) funding versus public funding. Clegg was rather disingenuous when he referred to a consensus that graduates should pay “some” contribution. The government plans implies 100% graduate funding in some cases and 80-90% graduate funding in many cases. That’s all but getting rid of public funding.

Harman threw an attempted joke in: “We all know what it is like, Mr Speaker. You are at Freshers’ week. You meet up with a dodgy bloke and you do things that you regret. Is not the truth of it that the Deputy Prime Minister has been led astray by the Tories?”
We all know what that is like do we, Hattie? Ummmm let me think. I didn’t actually meet any dodgy blokes in Freshers’ Week, personally. I spent most of my entire year at University trying to find a dodgy woman but, sadly, failed.

Clegg then had an excellent riposte to Harman’s general thrust:

I know that the right hon. and learned Lady now thinks that she can reposition the Labour party as the champion of students, but let us remember the Labour party’s record: against tuition fees in 1997, but introduced them a few months later; against top-up fees in the manifesto in 2001, then introduced top-up fees. Then Labour set up the Browne review, which it is now trashing, and now the Labour party has a policy to tax graduates that half the Front-Bench team does not even believe in. Maybe she will go out to the students who are protesting outside now and explain what on earth her policy is.

All in all, I thought Clegg did an excellent job of outlining the fairness of the coalition’s plan while obviously being on the back foot, due to going back on the promise.

But an emailer to BBC Live called Robert Taylor put it very well: “Nick Clegg is not breaking his promise to the electorate regarding tuition fees; the LibDems did NOT win the election – had they done so they would not have increased the fees thereby keeping their promise.”

Quite frankly, whatever Nick Clegg does or says on this topic, people will always associate him and the Liberal Democrats with “breaking their promise on tuition fees”.

We can argue until we’re blue in the face that it was a daft promise to make in the first place, that Labour introduced tuition fees and increased them, that politics is the art of the possible, that the government plan is progressive and (as John Hemming has ingeniously put it) “a graduate tax in all but name”.

But, whatever we do or say, still the Tuition Fees Albatross will remain around our necks and that of Nick Clegg in particular for at least a generation. So we need to get used to that.

And for Monty Python fans: no, it doesn’t come with any wafers.

The Albatross sketch from Monty Python:

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Opinion: Gentlemen! A little less bitching, please

For a party that prides itself on its stance on gender equality, we still have a lot of work to do. Sure, we campaign for greater and more flexible parental leave, and an end to unacknowledged airbrushing. We rightly refuse to acknowledge patronising all women shortlists, both in the party as a whole, and within Liberal Youth. We’ve certainly got a lot better at representation – a third of our target seat candidates in the last election were women. But women make up more than 50% of our population, and around 45% of our membership. A third is simply not …

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The Phil Woolas judgement: Arthur Balfour was right

The election offence for which Phil Woolas’s election was overturned is, deliberately and rightly, drawn narrowly and precisely (a point Nich Starling made very robustly on his blog and which Iain has also made on Lib Dem Voice).

The law gives very broad scope to contentious and aggressive claims, partly because – as Arthur Balfour succinctly put it when pushed to expand the law in 1905, “It is evidently not easy to go further, if only because of the difficulty of distinguishing between the mis-statements which are due to malice and those which are due to mere stupidity.”

The offence was introduced in 1895 with, until then, the only offence under election law regarding false statements about candidates being if you falsely claimed that someone had pulled out as a candidate.

It is worth considering what, however, would be the position if even this narrow legal offence did not exist. Imagine case, say, of a candidate campaigning to oust a Labour MP and making false claims about the Labour MP being a supporter of terrorism. The Labour MP loses, sues for libel and wins. During the court case it is revealed that the victorious candidate always knew the claims being made about the now ex-MP were false but even so deliberately decided to include them in leaflets distributed during the election.

Without the sort of offence for which Phil Woolas was found guilty the victorious candidate might have to pay up in libel damages but could continue as an MP. (Eagle-eyed readers will have noted by this point that there are some important difference between the Representation of the People Act 1983 and libel law, but they don’t affect this example.) They would be able to continue speaking and voting in Parliament, drawing a Parliamentary salary, accruing a Parliamentary pension and so on for the next few years. Would that be a satisfactory outcome?

Your answer to that determines whether or not the principle of provisions like those in the Representation of the People Act 1983 is right. I think it is – we should give very broad scope to the public getting to determine who wins and loses in elections, but that is not the same as saying that anything goes.

Those who argue otherwise are wrong and, in fairness to Labour, it should be pointed out that the vast majority of the online coverage from Labour bloggers has been to condemn what Phil Woolas did. I also had the experience of listening to Harriet Harman on the radio at the weekend and agreeing with her. She is right that what we know Phil Woolas did has no place in politics even if he manages a successful legal appeal. What puzzles me, however, is that very little new came out during the case. There have been some interesting details – such as the forged diary, the evidence of the Labour Party agent being called “not reliable” by the judges and the complaint about a cat. At heart, however, what we now know Phil Woolas did is what we always knew he did, which makes Ed Miliband’s decision to appoint him not merely a Shadow Minister but one for immigration, all the odder. Hopefully, however, that will soon become no more than a curious political footnote.

As for political campaigning more generally, I don’t think the ruling will have a major impact – nor should it, because the law should only be for exceptional cases. Leafing through the advice I’ve co-authored for candidates on what you should or should not say in political literature (which was quoted in the court case and described by Phil Woolas as “naive”!), there does not look to be anything that needs changing based on this case. In that, there’s nothing new – for when the original provision was brought in by the 1895 act, the Liberal Party’s then election manual, Woodings, was updated to mention this new offence. It rightly noted it but did not make a song and dance about it for it was rightly considered then, as has been the case, to be a provision that only covers unusual and extreme cases. As the Judge put it in the 1911 case which hinged on this offence:

The primary protection of this statute was the protection of the constituency against acts which would be fatal to freedom of election. There would be no true freedom of election, no real expression of the opinion of the constituency, if votes were given in consequence of the dissemination of a false statement as to the personal character of conduct of a candidate.

The law has been in place for 115 years. That Phil Woolas is one of only a very small number to fall foul of it shows not that the law is too broad but that his behaviour was so awful.

Credit, by the way, to the judges for their understanding of how easy it is to find coverage of election candidates online – para 123 of the ruling shows a familiarity with the internet that counters some of the stereotypes about an out of touch judiciary.

Phil Woolas election – full legal judgement

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How dare she follow the rules, thunders Mail on Sunday

In a thundering attack this morning, the Mail on Sunday lays into Harriet Harman, acting leader of of the Labour party for…erm… doing nothing wrong at all.

Ms Harman, it appears, accepted money legally and properly given by a Labour Party supporter and then, as is one of the jobs of an MP, assisted the same person with a problem.

The whole affair, which the Mail on Sunday would really like you to think is some sort of sordid scandal, is summed up in the first few paragaphs of their story:

Harriet Harman was last night facing damaging claims that she lobbied

Posted in Op-eds | 6 Comments

Opinion: John Prescott and the unions, voices of Labour’s rapid decline

Labour is not taking to opposition very well. Partisan points of orders, revisionist attitudes to the fiscal situation and demanding the coalition praises their formers leaders. And now we see Labour figures demanding voters to see a referendum, on the principle of a fairer voting system, as a “confidence vote on the coalition.”

By asking the public for their ideas and recommendations for public sector cuts, the Coalition Government has intelligently put the Labour party in an uncomfortable place. The unions are threatening general strikes and the average voter recognises the ideological and partisan attitude of the union movement. The “union …

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PMQs: Prime Minister’s tennis

Prime Minister’s Questions today was preceded by Scottish Questions, with our man in the chair. So we had a real bonus today, LibDemmy Chaps and Chapesses ! Nick Clegg on Cameron’s right and the large granite-like figure of Michael Moore on the left. For it was indeed he – “Most Handsome LibDem MP 1997 -2004” or “1997 – present day” for some, I’m told. Pass the smelling salts – the intoxication of power is overcoming me!

Talking of people on the front bench behind Cameron, they ought to realise that the camera picks them up. They seem to think if they …

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PMQs: Hattie tries to throw a “stinger” in front of voting reform

Prime Minister’s Questions is definitely becoming more subdued these days. The bellowing and ya-boo atmosphere has reduced by about 80% since the election. The Cumbrian shootings have dominated both sessions so far, which has added to the quietish feeling.

Harriet Harman has suddenly developed an interest in the electoral roll and the fact that “3.5 million people” who could be on it, aren’t. Fascinating. She seems to have suddenly come up with this as a reason to throw a sort of police “stinger” in front of voting reform – or at least constituency boundary re-drawing. She seems to have forgotten that her party was in power for thirteen years. Why didn’t they do something about electoral registration then? And, as David Cameron retorted, the last election was fought on recently redrawn boundaries anyway – which rather kiboshed Hattie’s argument.

Harman then had a go about CCTV. David Cameron went off on one, ending up about rights to enter people’s houses. He did make some good points about civil liberties during which Nick Clegg nodded very strongly. Harman raised an estate on her patch where they want CCTV coverage. Cameron said it was all about proportionality. If only he could say that about voting reform.

Good joke from Cameron:

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PMQs: Hattie opens up the Coalition’s Grand Canyon

I feel as though Norris McWhirter (late of the Guinness Book of Records) ought to have been kneeling at the foot of the Speaker’s Chair with his stopwatch for this momentous Prime Minister’s Questions. There were several records or firsts being set. The first coalition PMQs ever, I would suggest (I doubt whether Winnie or Ramsay or our David held such events). The first with Liberal Democrats on the government benches. The first with a party sporting its second female leader (Margaret Beckett was acting Labour leader after John Smith died). And it’s 13 long years since we had …

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Daily View 2×2: 6 December 2009

It’s Sunday. It’s 7am. It’s time for a special Alan-rich (or is it Steve?) YouTube treat, but first the blogs and the news.

2 Must-Read Blog Posts

What are other Liberal Democrat bloggers saying? Here are two posts that have caught the eye from the Liberal Democrat Blogs aggregator:

  • The truth may not be out there after all: Peter Black reports on the Ministry of Defence winding down its UFO hunting activities. The fight on terrorism has been used to justify all sorts of policies, though the argument (made by someone Peter quotes) that UFO hunting is essential to the fight against terrorism is a new one to me.
  • ACPO U-turn on photographers and stop and search: But talking of absurdities done in the name of fighting terrorism, Carl Minns has welcome news on the police deciding that they’ve gone too far in stopping people taking photos.

Spotted any other great posts in the last day from blogs that aren’t on the aggregator? Do post up a comment sharing them with us all.

2 Big Stories

Harman attacks Tory tax break ‘for philanderers’

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Daily View 2×2: 20 November 2009

Welcome, Daily Viewers, to November 20th; it’s 17 years since fire broke out at Windsor Castle, causing tens of millions of pounds worth of damage. It’s also 24 years since Microsoft released Windows 1.0.

2 Must-Read Blog Posts

What are other Liberal Democrat bloggers saying? Here are two posts that have caught the eye from the Liberal Democrat Blogs aggregator:

  • The Isms of Cruddas Giles Wilkes at Freethinking Economist on why it’s not enough to think about thinkers.
  • The forgotten work and the financial penalties for women as primary carers – by Jane Watkinson at My Liberal Democrat Political Ramblings.

Spotted any other great posts in the last day from blogs that aren’t on the aggregator? Do post up a comment sharing them with us all.

2 Big Stories


Harriet Harman to be prosecuted for alleged driving offences

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Daily View 2×2: 5 October 2009

2 Big Stories


Tory conference opens, and it’s time to party like it’s 1994

A few thousand Tories are converging on Manchester today, with two issues dominating discussion: Europe and welfare cuts. Ah, and there we were thinking The Major Years were but a distant memory.

On a more positive note, the Tories will be singing today from the localism song-book, with Caroline Spelman championing the party’s conversion to local control of local services – an interesting about-turn for an MP who opposed Scottish and Welsh devolution, and believes central government should impose council tax freezes from Whitehall.

Ministerial

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Even The Sun covers a Lib Dem press release today

I suspect it may in part have been because it gave them a chance to take a pop at Harriet Harman – but there’s big coverage in The Sun, and other media, today for figures collated by the Liberal Democrats about the gender pay gap in central government:

Official figures show female civil servants are paid up to A THIRD less than male colleagues.

The revelations are an embarrassment to the party’s self-styled women’s champion Harriet Harman.

She has vowed to close the gap between the sexes – and has threatened to name and shame firms who give men more.

Furious critics last night

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Should the Lib Dems have a male and female leadership team?

Labour’s deputy leader Harriet Harman is standing in for Gordon Brown over the summer and has chosen this time to air her views on women and political leadership. Yesterday she told the Sunday Times:

“Men cannot be left to run things on their own. I think it’s a thoroughly bad thing to have a men-only leadership. In a country where women regard themselves as equal, they are not prepared to see men just running the show themselves. I think a balanced team of men and women makes better decisions.”

Jo Swinson MP, the Liberal Democrat women’s spokesperson (and former Chair …

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Deputy PMQs: Vince tackles Harriet on bankers’ bonuses

Y’know I’ve expressed my general contempt for the pantomime which passes for Prime Minister’s Questions on many occasions: it’s theatre, mirage, insubstantial: all performance, no content. But we discovered today there’s something worse than the usual rowdy PMQs: when there’s both no performance and no content.

It’s hard to remember that William Hague once had a fearsome Commons reputation for being the best, sparkiest, wittiest debater on the block. Perhaps all those after-dinner speeches have dulled his senses – or perhaps he reckons he’s not paid enough to waste all his best lines on Parliament – but today’s performance against Prime Ministerial stand-in Harriet Harman was lame and dull. To put it in context, he made Harriet look actually quite good. She wasn’t – she was anodyne and frequently out-of-her-depth – but the comparison was to her credit, not his. Still, at least Mr Hague was better than Gordon Brown.

Vince Cable rose, as is traditional, to cheers from all-corners of the house. He started with a dry, slightly obscure, joke in Harriet’s honour – “may I express the hope that when she was briefing the Prime Minister for talks with his friend Signor Berlusconi, she remembered to enclose an Italian translation of her progressive views on gender equality?” – but then stuck to the touchstone issue among the public at the moment: how can government ministers talk of the need for public sector pay restraint when they are signing-off large bonuses for executives in banks currently majority-owned by the public? Harriet made a half-heartedly fierce show of sounding tough while committing the Government to nothing.

In a low-scoring contest, Vince edges it both for injecting (a little) humour into proceedings, and (more importantly) for asking a question that matters to the public, on an issue the government can do something about, and where his own party has something distinctive to say. Mr Hague, take note.

Full Hansard transcript of Vince and Harriet’s exchanges follow:

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Brown’s five Iraq inquiry U-turns explained

The Guardian’s Andrew Sparrow has been a busy boy – he’s been trying to keep pace with the Government’s U-turns since Gordon Brown made his statement announcing the Iraq inquiry last week. He reckons there have been a possible nine, and a definite five:

  • Holding the inquiry in public
  • Allowing the inquiry to attribute blame
  • Forcing witnesses to give evidence on oath
  • Publishing an interim report
  • Membership of the inquiry committee
  • Indeed, it’s interesting to compare this list with Nick Clegg’s consistent pressure on the Government over the past few days, and the clarification he’s sought from inquiry chair Sir John Chilcot.

    Economist columnist-blogger Bagehot has today analysed this litany of reverses in an attempt to explain Mr Brown’s reverse Midas touch:

    I prefer to see the whole, shambolic episode as a parable of the dialectical weakness that has undone Mr Brown’s premiership.

    The prime minister made his announcement without proper consultation, either of other political leaders or other interested parties, such as current and former generals. His proposal came in for criticisms—on the openness question, the composition of the panel, the time-frame and so on—that ought to have been glaringly predictable, and would certainly have been made plain by any meaningful canvassing of views. As a result, an initiative that was doubtless expected to be a vote-winner threatened to become a political disaster. The government has responded with an ongoing frenzy of back-tracking and buck-passing, leaving it to Sir John to resolve many of the controversial issues himself. (There is a useful catalogue of the various U-turns here.) What ought to have been a cross-party endeavour instead became, in the votes in the Commons yesterday evening, a futile test of the government’s strength.

    There you have it: an encapsulation of the whole Brown tragicomedy. The motive may (or may not) have been noble. But the execution was a catalogue of shoddy judgments and mistakes, combining lack of consultation with a political tin ear, failings that perfectly illustrate why Mr Brown’s overall position is so vulnerable. That vulnerability in turn explains why he was obliged so swiftly to climb down. He is in large measure the author of his own predicament; and the predicament is in turn emasculating him.

    And Labour’s U-turns aren’t restricted solely to Iraq. Just today, Harriet Harman scrapped the Government’s plans to limit the scope of the committee set up to oversee the reform of Parliament. Ministers had been planning to prevent the Wright Committee from examining any Government business. However, Ms Harman today contacted Lib Dem shadow Leader of the House, David Heath, to inform him that she would be accepting his amendment allowing the committee to look at Government business.

    David Heath commented:

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    Daily View 2×2: 3 June 2009

    2 big stories

    “It’s not the wheels falling off the government.”

    With these (deliberate?) words on Radio 4’s PM yesterday afternoon, Harriet Harman defined today’s big story. No, the PM’s reshuffle plans have in no way leaked throughout a thoroughly angry and demoralised cabinet, and they are not at all about to resign en masse. The government is not in the slightest on a course to imminent implosion and Gordon Brown is not reduced to kissing babies on the news and saying nice things about Susan Boyle in a farcically doomed attempt to court popularity. Honest.

    Covered with varying degrees of glee …

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    When spinning misleads: The Times and the Equality Bill

    The question of pay audits has been one of the big areas of contention within the Government ahead of the publication this week of the Equality Bill. Should firms be required to carry out an audit to see if they are paying men and women the same rate for equivalent jobs? Should small firms be exempted? How small is small? Should there be an initial voluntary phase? And so on. At various times, different camps seem to have had the upper hand in this debate, with Peter Mandelson pushing for very little on this front and Harriet Harman pushing for …

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    Clegg on Brown’s MPs’ expenses reforms: “Bringing the Brussels gravy train to Westminster is not the way to fix our expenses system.”

    The Evening Standard billboards I walked past this evening proclaimed, more than a little hyperbolically, Brown axes MPs’ expenses. The truth is a little more mundane – you can read the full text of the written statement from Commons leader Harriet Harman’s statement to the Commons setting out Labour’s proposed changes to MPs’ expenses rules via the BBC HERE.

    The headline-grabbing announcement is the scrapping of the second homes’ allowance, and its replacement with ‘a flat-rate daily allowance, based on actual attendance at Westminster on parliamentary and government business or the business of the Opposition frontbenches’ limited to the …

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